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**PRINT: Our 30th broadsheet, GIVES BIRTH TO MONSTERS, by Chicago-based Spencer Dew, is a tale of one man's small heartbreak, the backdrop to a contemporary landscape of well-meaning but ultimately shallow political activism, fractured communicative lines, and more ultimately enduring drives toward total inebriation. In classic Dew fashion, he'll have you laughing all the way to brink of the void. Dew is the author of the short-story collection Songs of Insurgency (2008). This issue also features excerpts from our David Foster Wallace collaborative mini-tribute by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills and Bellingham, Wash.-based Doug Milam, author of our 27th broadsheet

THE FAT GOTHS S. Craig Renfroe Jr.
WING & FLY: DFW, Feb. 21, 1962-Sept. 12, 2008 | Todd Dills

Tobias Carroll

Carroll, who lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y., was the writer behind our 23rd broadsheet, released in February 2007.

A dozen bridges in Portland, and not one meant for him. It was a psychological condition, the doctors had told him; a side effect of the electric shock and blunt trauma, the accident that flung him from his Forest Hills apartment, out of the five boroughs, from one shore to its Janus 3,000 miles away. He now felt an uneasiness around elevation, around the passage over water; was hamstrung by newly-risen phobias: the Eastern seaboard and any craft with wheels. The consideration of the Atlantic shoreline pinioned him, as though he was suddenly witness to his insignificance in comparison with it. He would fade for 90 seconds at a time, face pale and eyes sightless, blanks in his perception far worse than the alcoholic blackouts he'd had at a younger age. Always he'd loved the ocean, and now the ocean had turned on him, grown hostile, marshaled its forces to grapple with his sense of place.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

As for wheels: he could watch cars without a problem. Bicycles, motorcycles, his cousin's daughter's tricycle: all benign. Step inside a car or a train and panic would overtake him, an intense claustrophobia he felt nowhere else. The mere thought of setting foot inside a plane was enough to make him nauseous. The doctors sought drugs, but none brought him relief; none withdrew the obstacles now entrenched so deeply in his mind's firmament. And so he had walked from the hostile coast to the benign one, keeping pace with the day, feeling as though he'd been shunted into another era where society's nights were absent, where birdcalls and the motion of bats' wings overhead were the backdrop. In those months, he found himself longing for a roadside tavern and a room for the night. He camped, periodically replenishing his supplies. Work had been good for him; insurance's settlement even more so. Checks made out to him, the awkward cadences of a name he'd never liked emblazoned on envelopes: WESTON MARIS.

Minneapolis was where he lingered; he quickened his pace to reach Portland before winter hit. There was a room there in which he could crash for a few months, acquire his bearings, train himself to think only of the new ocean, which he found he could consider without fear of panic. Streetcars, the great unknown. His first night in town, late in November, he'd washed the residue of his trip from his body, shaved, cut the hair on his head to something manageable. The couple whose apartment he would be occupying was in town for a few nights more: old friends of his, they were en route to six months on another continent, paid for by someone's employer. Paid well enough that he could dwell here and not think of employment for a while. Couples surrounded him: those that he'd left in New York and those that were newly leaving him here.

His first full day in Portland, maneuvering through the city's downtown, the steady isolated beat of his long walk replaced by a drum corps, he caught sight of one of the city's bridges in the distance and found irrational nerves causing his blood to race. The concept of crossing the bridge rendered as unthinkable as riding the subway, as hitchhiking through Montana, as sailing from New Haven to Portsmouth.

"I got electrocuted," he told the afternoon bartender. "I was welding something, one piece of wire to another, and it sparked. It made me complicated."

"Welding what?"

"Old keyboards. Back east, I made music."

"You don't anymore?"


"Phobias because your brain got rewired?"

Weston took a drink. "No. A genuine phobia: that if I press the button to make music again, it'll all repeat itself, and I'll be walking back cross-country through the winter." Another drink, and then a patron caught on, said wait a minute and launched an inquiry into Weston's traversal.

Weston ordered another beer and wondered if he was settling into an identity here: stranded, rambling, the man with a hell of a story to tell. Drinks paid for by a story, that same story, again and again. He could ease into it, he realized. A local. Save himself the trouble of looking for a social circle, for things to do now that he called the northwest home. Stories told to the unemployed and the off-shift guys and the lunchtime restaurant workers. Finding himself at home in a bar with a view of three bridges, face turned away from the windows.

He said, "I need to find a way over one of those bridges some day." He heard someone else say "What?" from behind him and shook his head. A version of "May the Circle Be Unbroken" filtered over the bar's speakers; he recognized it immediately, found himself nodding his head to the song's rhythms. Later, the sky long past blue, a handful of beer in his blood, he said to no one in particular, "I should get work out here."

Said someone anonymous: "What're you good at?"

"Walking," said Weston. And half an hour later he was doing exactly that, south -- he thought it was south -- on 23rd, northwest gone southeast. Not drunk now, but not exactly sober either; walking weather, motion to shield him from the cold. A bridge in the distance; he looked over a new building for it and felt his heart's rush. He wanted there to be someone to whom he could ask the question: is that physical, that quickening just from the beer and the pace; or is it mental, the old irrationality rising up again? There was no one who could answer this save himself, and he was far from infallible.

He wanted to sleep; the sidewalks felt like unfamiliar footing beneath his soles, and yet he also wanted to enter a fresh bar and drink until he blurred to a comfortable state. He was close to his friends' dwelling now, he knew. He could sleep, wake the next morning to blue corn pancakes and better coffee than he'd had in half a year.

And so the bar he walked into was quiet. No pool tables or flashing lights or youth-speak clientele. Seated at the bar was a woman quietly reading a comic book called Phonogram; two others were hunched over sketchbooks. Winter was at the door. Weston could see this bar in the coming season: parkas and thick fleeces and army surplus greatcoats hung on the wall, mulled wine on the specials board, the beers on tap denser, the laughter fuller, the drinking spells longer, anything to prolong the stay inside, where the cold had no province. Above the bar, a shrine to someone's lost friend. From the jukebox, subdued pop music, catchy, splitting the difference between a backward look and a backward glance.

He listened as the song grew; heard a drumbeat that echoed the first he'd ever learned. Behind him: "First snowfall's on for tomorrow, I hear." So he'd arrived in town just in time. The woman with the comic book was asking if anyone had a light; Weston knew someone back east, a nonsmoker, who owned a Zippo for occasions just like this. Weston walked the length of the place after his second drink, saw a bulletin board with the usual arrangement of tear-sheet ads, event flyers, and business cards. He saw a flyer up for a used mandolin and tore off one of the accompanying phone numbers.

Back to the bar. Another beer with the promise that the next would be comped. He finished it and felt an impulse to walk outside; he found himself going down the street, down to Burnside, his pace faster, a destination at least worth considering. Sweat below his coat, he knew; his shirt's color now mottled with darker patches. Down Burnside, following a trail he'd traced once before, his body falling into an easy pattern. Half an hour later, he stood at the base of a quarter-mile bridge over which he'd been driven years before. The concept of crossing the river wrenched his pace. Memory guided him to the pedestrian path. Two steps. Fear parted enough to allow him some glimpse of how he must look: drunk or otherwise distorted. Fear parted enough to leave him concerned for his safety. He took two more steps; took three more, the Willamette below. Another step, and he realized there was no destination in mind. The first walk he'd taken in a year where that was the case. Bile rushing, his head aching, he continued on.


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